Sgurr nan Eag - 924m
Sgurr Dubh na Da Bheinn - 938m
Sgurr Alasdair - 992m
Sgurr Thearlaich - 978m

Sunday 13th July 2014

Weather/Conditions: Actually okay weather - but the cloud never cleared off the ridge, and the ridge stayed soaked from overnight rain.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 13.2km / 1350m / 5h 55m
Accompanying: Alone

Cuillin Attempt #1

This was an interesting day. In the early hours of the morning, Struan and I were up at the Sligachan campsite, and getting ready to give the Cuillin Traverse a shot. We got prepared, but outside the weather looked anything but ideal. I had a plan on paper, and resolved to follow it until something really got in our way. Cloud was pushed low, and it hadn't stopped drizzling all night.

We drove down Glen Drynoch in a kind of muted apprehensive silence. Outside, first light was making itself known, but it was so dark, and still grim. We turned into Glen Brittle, following the road all the way to park at the end. We both sat there half asleep, looking at the rain on the windscreen, and the mist and drizzle pushed down almost to sea level. The thought of the effort to come was barely comprehensible. And in these conditions? Not a chance. Struan broke the silence, "Kev, this is grim". And with those words, my one opportunity of 2014 to put a Cuillin Traverse together had fallen apart right in front of my eyes.

It's amazing that you can get the right partner and be at the start line, prepared and ready to go, and still have something that stops you. It was frustrating for the weather to have the last say, but bed was calling once more, and we drove back to Sligachan. Relief was one emotion. But I felt like a bubble had burst, just like that.

Anyway - Struan and I woke up again at a reasonable time, and headed over to Sligachan for breakfast/cup of tea. Struan decided there and then to head home, and I saw him away on the bus. Thus I had 24 hours alone to kill on Skye. And with the weather improving, what better way to kill time than to go to Glen Brittle and take things from there?

Cuillin Attempt #2

I drove into the road end car park alone, to find Mike Lates there with a group of clients, all about to head up onto Sron na Ciche. He gave some good info on the traverse, and suggested I go for it. Why not? It was as though a switch flicked, a rocket up the ass, essentially. Suddenly there were no barriers anymore. So I packed some gear, and in a state of immense concentration and focus, strode away from the campsite and up onto the hills.

A few things were clear from the outset - I wasn't going to start from Gars-bheinn alone, and I wasn't going to be soloing things like the TD Gap. But I had an ab rope along, in case of the InPinn... Few hill days have matched the sense of focus I felt on that walk in. I was on overdrive, all the way into Coire a' Ghrunnda, into the mist. I'd never been on the Cuillin in the mist before, and this became an interesting exercise in taking mental way markers and checkpoints. I had boulders and cliff edges visualised and stored away - just in case I needed to reverse my route back out the coire.

But I gained the summit of Sgurr nan Eag quite happily, and started on my way north. Traversing under the Caisteal, I got to the summit of Sgurr Dubh na Da Bheinn. Now in any other circumstances, I would go for Sgurr Dubh Mor. But this time it just seemed too much mental effort to pull myself away - to deviate from an already tenuous plan to do the ridge. It was amazing how difficult it was to focus on anything but the essentials of doing the ridge by whatever method possible.

I traversed under Sgurr Alasdair to reach the Grade 2 chimney (SW flank). This was relatively easy, and far easier than my first time, in 2012. So Sgurr Alasdair was no problem, and I reached the summit happily.

Sgurr Thearlaich was next, and this was a real crux of the day. It was also where I learned most. For the first time, I located the eastern bypass. But it was still drenched in water and I had incredibly nervous moments trying to downclimb with the feeling I could slip off into space at any moment. It wasn't justifiable. If worst came to worst I could retrace my steps to the head of the Great Stone Chute. But I decided to try the western (Brittle) bypass. This is a pretty deceptive and intricate route. It was hard for me to find the beginning - a little rib leading down to some slabs. When I did locate it, the exposure made me feel sick. To think of going down that?! I collected myself and tried again. This time, instead of movement seizing up I got to the bottom of the rib, and then traversed the rib, which was equally as tenuous. To be honest, it was pretty unsettling. At any moment I was prepared to cut and run, turn back and reverse everything back to the Great Stone Chute. But I made it through and thence to Bealach Mhic Choinnich.

Sgurr Thearlaich had used up quite a bit of mental effort. I set off up the first wall of Sgurr Mhic Choinnich, but everything was drenched - the whole wall soaking. I climbed up a few moves, but pretty quickly, I couldn't climb with the feeling I was about to slip off to a nasty landing. Not in my trainers, and not solo. It wasn't worth it, the traverse just wasn't going to happen like this. So I shuffled off down Bomb Alley (which was sprayed in fresh rockfall!), into the Stone Chute and down to Coire Lagan.

Back at the lochan, I sat on the slabs looking out at the ocean. These peaks had eluded me today, but it was a good learning experience nonetheless. Just like in the morning, the bubble had popped in an instant, on that wall below Sgurr Mhic Choinnich. The Cuillin traverse just wasn't happening. If the cloud had instead cleared (letting the sun burn the moisture off the ridge) then it could have. But I was satisfied to have taken things as far as I did.

Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 10.25am Glen Brittle parking
(2.15) 12.40pm Sgurr nan Eag
(3.20) 1.45pm Sgurr Alasdair
(3.32) 1.57pm Sgurr Thearlaich
(3.55) 2.20pm Bealach Mhic Choinnich
(5.55) 4.20pm Glen Brittle parking

Written: 2016-06-28 (no idea how I can remember all this stuff!)